Bob Shoop remembers the play like he was on the field.
On third-and-goal at the 3, the Vanderbilt defensive coordinator watched Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera begin his route. Defensive tackle Rob Lohr, however, bumped Rivera and upset his timing. That set the table for linebacker Archibald Barnes, who stepped in front of Rivera for an interception — his second of the game — at the goal line. Then he got behind a parade of blockers and worked his way down the sideline and into the end zone — eventually.
“I thought they were going to call delay of game,” Shoop quipped. “That is a play I will never ever forget and I’m sure he won’t either.”
A year later, Barnes smiles when thinking about that 100-yard interception return for his first career touchdown.
“I just took off running and, as everybody jokes with me, it looks like I got a little slow halfway down the field,” Barnes said. “But they said, ‘You didn’t get caught so it still counts.’ I was pretty tired but I had enough energy to celebrate with the guys who helped me out.”
Barnes hopes to be celebrating a rare Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3 SEC) win over the rival Volunteers (4-6, 0-6), who roll into Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN2). Vanderbilt has lost six straight to Tennessee and 28 of 29. The Commodores last defeated the Vols in Nashville in 1982.
Barnes, a fifth-year senior from Tampa, leads the charge in keeping UT grounded. Behind an aerial attack led by quarterback Tyler Bray, the Vols rank second in the SEC in scoring offense with 37.9 points a game.
Vanderbilt needs to shore up its passing defense after allowing a season-high 403 passing yards to Ole Miss last weekend. But Barnes maintains the primary goal is stopping running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane.
Since surrendering 326 rushing yards to Florida, the Commodores have shut down the run. They’ve allowed just 78.3 yards over the last four games, with Auburn (103) and Kentucky (101) barely eclipsing the 100-yard mark.
“As a defense we’ve really improved at flying to the ball and stopping the run,” Barnes said. “You still got to stop the run. You can’t underestimate any back in the SEC. That’s an SEC running back and they’ve got two of them back there who are going to be something to stop. Their passing defense is not going to change us. We’ve just got to stick to our assignments and what we do and work within the defense.”
Barnes continues to adjust to new assignments after making a position switch in the offseason.
When Tristan Strong left the team, Shoop moved Barnes to weak-side inside linebacker and shifted Karl Butler to the strong-side outside linebacker. This also offered Vanderbilt some experience at the starting spots as freshmen Darreon Herring, Larry Franklin and Jake Sealand absorb valuable snaps.
The transition has gone smoothly as Barnes hasn’t slowed down, so to speak. After finishing fourth on the team in tackles in 2011, he’s right back in that spot this year with 51 tackles, including two for a loss and a sack.
“The thing I’m so proud of Archie about is he has been unselfish,” Shoop said. “Although it might not have been in his best interest, it was in the best interest of the team. To do it as he’s done and to be a leader in both the kicking game and on the defense has been a breath of fresh air.”
• Stacy practices: In the last 10 minutes of Wednesday night’s practice open to the media, running back Zac Stacy practiced with the first-team offense.
Appearing to have braces on his right ankle and right knee, he seemed to cut and move without any hindrance. Stacy was injured on the second play from scrimmage against Ole Miss last weekend and did not return to the game. Coach James Franklin said he has looked “awesome” in practice the last two days.
“Obviously he went out of the game and we had to work through that early in the week but he has been great,” Franklin said. “I had a meeting with him this week about his approach and his mentality and he’s good. I feel really confident he is going to have a big game for us.”